RUSE is an odd game. Iâm going to be straight up about it. As a World War Two Real Time Strategy, itâs a square peg in a round hole. Like the 1939 Polish tank corp. it puts up a valiant but ultimately futile attempt at bringing RTS gaming to the Xbox 360.
It doesnât help that RUSE is set (once again) in World War Two. There is nothing inherently wrong with World War Two as the background to a good strategy title (hell, it worked for Company of Heroes) but itâs a bit of a dead horse. And here at NZGamer.com we like our horses nice and fresh. There are probably now more World War Two titles than there ever were aircraft carriers. Developers, its time to move on. Seriously.
RUSE is the child of French developer Eugen Systems. Produced by Ubisoft, it was set to breathe new life into the Xbox 360 strategy market. The big new addition was the use of âRusesâ â card like special abilities that you can deploy over certain areas of the map. Weâve had these in strategy games on the PC for years, so it was nice to see the idea being transferred over to the computerâs sitting room sibling.
Because this title is set in World War Two its imperative that you act out the narrative of some gung-ho American â while an aristocratic British Colonel gives you sensible advice in a cavalier way. RUSE makes no attempt to deviate from this jaded formula, but it does have one ace up its sleeve. The second campaign storyline allows you to have a decent crack at a German storyline; a rare, but by no means revolutionary, feature in World War Two strategy titles.
With a classic touch, the storyline is developed through some great video cinematics. I donât really understand the current trend of having cutscenes presented within the game graphics engine. Developers shouldnât feel locked into sacrificing cinematic progression just to show off their dynamic lighting. For some games, in-game footage is appropriate, but RUSE did well for choosing substance over form.
The campaign itself gets off to a pretty slow start. It has become a strategy cliche that you begin your adventure by moving one or two units around a map. Many strategy games require you to complete several of these hand-holding missions before the meat and potatoes of base construction and resource collection begins. RUSE isnât the only offender â even Starcraft 2 was guilty of this tired technique. However, even the most experienced strategy fan expects that things get going reasonably quickly.
Unfortunately RUSE drags the chain, presenting you with a variety of set pieces that are all too familiar. After micro-managing six units I managed to capture a town in sandy Tunisia. Hooray I thought, all well and good. Victory is mine; finally itâs time for some narrative progression! Instead I was forced to defend my captured town against advancing Germans riding big, big tanks. Okay, sure, the whole attack-counter-attack mechanic is a staple of the genre. I shouldnât be that upset. But I got the frustrating feeling that it was a way for Eugen to get more mileage out of the same scenario.
But the game play itself is decent. Once you have managed to sit through the tedious first few sections of the campaign itâs quite a good time. Like all strategy games on the Xbox it has its limitations â there is only so much that can be done with four buttons and an analog stick â but it performs reasonably well regardless. Just be sure to turn on âsticky selectionâ in the options menu, which is disabled by default. This enables you to issue orders to the same unit continuously. Without it, the control and management of your units is controller-throwingly difficult. In addition, the payoff for the application of your âRusesâ is not immediately obvious. This is disappointing, as they could have been deployed in more interesting and subtle ways â instead of just being blanket effects to delineated areas of the battle-map.
Annoying controls aside, the most immersive aspect of the gameplay is the rendering of the whole battle map Total-War-style. This allows for smooth (but slow) transitions between minute close up detail and the whole world view. But in reality, this kind of camera movement is much more at home on the PC with the benefit of a scroll wheel. Eugen have done a great job of presenting an organic battlefield experience. Artillery shells are flying all over the place, planes zoom around, and trucks and tanks puff and chug up and down the map. And itâs all with visceral audio. Itâs an intense experience when things really heat up and it does make you feel like you are watching an actual battle unfold.
But fighting out each battle in its own mini-world has its limitations. The gamble of doing away with some kind of mini-map, and instead requiring you to zoom right out to see the overall tactical cut and thrust did not quite pay off. And you will be zooming in a lot. Even on large televisions (I reviewed this on a 42 incher) units are small and hard to locate. So in the heat of battle, itâs somewhat frustrating to have to continuously fly in and out just to see whatâs going on. This is a strategy game, not Google Earth.
In addition there are some bemusing decisions made to the unit combat. Some units, such as the German Flak 88 seem drastically overpowered â being able to eviscerate a heavy tank in a shot. Others, such as your standard anti-tank gun, will only fire on tanks. As a unit designed for countering this seems sensible, but Eugen made the confusion decision to represent infantry, when moving on roads, as little trucks. Surely anti-tank guns can shoot trucks; in fact Iâm pretty convinced theyâd do a good job of it. Maybe the symbolism of the thing was lost on me. Or maybe it was just bad symbolism.
But if trudging through the campaign is not your thing, like Total-War, RUSE does offer some variability in its historical playable scenarios. These come with an interesting twist. Many of the scenarios present a new take on history â you can play as the Germans marching on London or the Italians against the Germans. But be warned, these scenarios are very, very difficult. Iâm a reasonably experienced videogames strategist and every once and a while the default AI would puppy stomp me.
RUSE on the Xbox 360 is by no means a disastrous strategy title. Strategy on that platform always has a bit of an uphill climb, but there will be console gamers out there who will enjoy it. Itâs just unfortunate that the game doesnât feel like the revolutionary title it proclaimed itself to be. The addition of âRusesâ are not all that novel and only really serve the same purpose as General powers or special buffs â which are the kind of abilities that are now central to the genre.
Overall RUSE is an odd game because it is ambitious. It has tried to make strategy game interesting and relevant to the Halo generation and for that it should be congratulated. However in doing so it has paradoxically tried to reinvigorate the genre, but through the eyes of its most hackneyed setting. RUSE should be commended for attempting to stretch the boundary. But there is a lack of balance. The result is a perverse dichotomy; RUSE either goes too far, or not far enough.